If Pitt Makes a NY6 Bowl, Kenny Pickett Will Have a Huge Decision to Make

Photo obtained from pittpanthers.com

I have been in a Pitt Football euphoria since wide receiver Jordan Addison was running in that final touchdown against Virginia to clinch the Coastal division for Pitt.  Despite sitting through a four-hour game, my Dad and I sat through the division champion trophy ceremony smiling ear to ear.  I mention the length of the game because something has to be done about how long college football games are taking these days, but that is a fight for another day.  Anyway, we were thrilled.

So I don’t want to totally rain on the proverbial parade, but I will sprinkle on it.  There is still hope, and now what appears to be a likelihood, that Pitt plays in one of the coveted New Years Six bowl games.  These are so named because they are all played on or around the New Year holiday.  These bowls include the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Peach Bowl, Rose Bowl, and Sugar Bowl.  These six bowls rotate who hosts the two playoff matchups between the four selected playoff teams.  This season the Cotton Bowl and the Orange Bowl are hosting the playoff matchups. 

Additionally, when these bowls are not associated with playoff matchups, three of them have mandatory conference ties.  The Rose Bowl features a Big Ten team versus a Pac-12 opponent, the Sugar Bowl pits a Big 12 Team against an SEC team and the Orange Bowl will always feature an ACC opponent.  Since the Orange Bowl is hosting a playoff matchup, there is no guarantee that an ACC team will appear in a New Year’s Six Bowl.  This obviously has an impact on Pitt this season since they are currently the highest rated ACC team at #17.

However, Pitt would still be in line to appear in a New Year’s Six Bowl if they beat Syracuse this Saturday in their final regular season game and take care of business in Charlotte against whatever ACC team wins the Atlantic division.  Twelve teams appear in the NY6 bowls, and if Pitt wins their final two games, including against a ranked ACC Atlantic opponent, they will rise into the Top 12.  As much as I desire such a prominent distinction for the Pitt program, it would put quarterback Kenny Pickett into quite the pickle.

Pickett’s Big Decision

Pitt will play in a bowl.  The status of such bowl is still in question, but they will appear in one.  Nobody would blame Pickett if he sits out of the Boca Raton Bowl or the Mercedes Benz Celebration Bowl, but what if Pitt does earn a spot in a coveted NY6 bowl? 

The risk of injury in football is always present and college players, despite new NIL rules, still need their big NFL pay day.  It’s not unheard of for projected NFL draft picks to skip bowl games.  It’s especially common for those expected to be drafted in the first round.  In his most recent mock draft, Mel Kiper has Kenny Pickett being drafted as the highest quarterback taken and at No. 20 overall.  Todd McShay also has Pickett as the top QB taken, but at No. 27 overall. 

Running backs Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey are the most notable players to sit out of a bowl in recent history.  McCaffrey sat out the Sun Bowl against North Carolina and Fournette sat out of the Citrus Bowl, both in the same 2016 season.  Also, D-lineman Jadeveon Clowney sat out his entire junior year of college in 2013 so as to not get injured.  The precedent has been set.

The McCaffrey and Fournette sit-outs were spawned from the year before when Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith suffered a horrific knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl.  Smith was a highly touted draft prospect that saw his stock plummet to the 2nd round due to the injury.  Additionally, to add credence to sitting, neither McCaffrey nor Fournette suffered any negative impact to their draft stock for sitting out, despite many NFL personnel criticizing the pair.  They were taken 4th and 8th overall in the 2017 draft, respectively. 

With the precedent being set, more and more draft prospects are sitting out bowl games.  Therefore, I think Pickett will sit out, regardless of the prestige level of Pitt’s future bowl game.  Pickett is rated way too high in mock drafts to risk a major injury that would knock him out of the 1st round, and risk losing the contract that comes with being a 1st round draft pick. 

This is an especially easy decision as a quarterback.  Teams know how important that position is to the future of their franchise and if a team thinks Pickett is their future, they’re not going to pass on him for sitting out a game that ultimately means little to professional football teams.  Therefore, if you want to see Pickett play for Pitt one last time, I would recommend making the trip to Charlotte and watching him in the ACC Championship game.  As I will be in attendance, we can talk about it over a beer, on me.